- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 13, 2011

ANALYSIS/OPINION

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — For a team in the throes (or is it the overthrows?) of what the Washington Redskins are in the throes of, there is no bottom. Two losses become three. Three turn into four. And then you run the streak to five with a 20-9 loss on Sunday to the previously 1-7 Miami Dolphins.

That might seem as low as a club can sink, but then you glance at the schedule and realize there are still seven games to go. Seven more games for Mike Shanahan to play Guess the Quarterback. Seven more games for young players – thrown into the breach because of a lengthening injury list – to make young-player mistakes. Seven more games to wonder whether the Shanahan Redskins are ever going to resemble, in any respect, the Shanahan Broncos. A long time, seven games.

Maybe they should stop televising the games and just air the Redskins‘ practices. After all, that’s where the real action figures to be these next two months. It’s there the players and coaches plan to solve their problems through – what was that again, Shanny? Oh yeah, “hard work.”

It’s also there – every week, from the sound of it – Shanahan will decide which quarterback will “give us the best chance to win” Sunday. All kinds of factors will be considered, apparently, including practice performance, the opponent, which guys are out of the lineup and whether one of the QBs has pneumonia.

In the days before the Dolphins game, Shanahan spun his spinner and it pointed to Rex Grossman, who had been banished to the bench after throwing four interceptions against Philadelphia - the first of the Redskins‘ five straight defeats. But in the next month, as the injuries mounted, the situation went from bad to (John) Beck. Indeed, probably the only reason Grossman didn’t play last Sunday, in the second half of the San Francisco loss, is that the coach was tired of admitting he’s wrong … about this quarterback, that quarterback and every other quarterback.

But the switch back to Grossman brought no dramatic change in the Redskins‘ fortunes, basically because their issues on offense extend far, far beyond the QB spot. As Grossman said, the unit hasn’t been generating any “breakout” plays – the kind that get you “60 or 70 yards a pop,” flipping the field position and the momentum with one bold stroke. On top of that, he added, “It feels like [opposing defenses are] are taking away some of our deep shots.”

What they’re doing, Jabar Gaffney said, is “leaving their two safeties back all the time and pretty much daring us to run the ball on ‘em.” This is a sound strategy, given the damaged state of the Washington offensive line. Against the Dolphins, the left guard (Kory Lichtensteiger, replaced by rookie Mo Hurt) and the right tackle (Jammal Brown, replaced by Sean Locklear) were missing – and the left tackle (Trent Williams) remains less than 100 percent. Why not dare the Redskins to run?

And sure enough, Ryan Torain made little headway, gaining just 20 yards in 11 carries in the first half before yielding to rookie Roy Helu (41 in six tries). Until the Redskins run it a good deal better than that, defenses will just continue to sit back and deny the downfield stuff.

Let’s face it, when your tight end is your principal deep threat - and that’s certainly the case with this offense “at times,” Fred Davis said – you’re in a world of trouble. What’s happening now, of course, is that Davis is “being double-covered a lot more, which is creating more opportunities for other guys.” Unfortunately for the Redskins, those guys aren’t Santana Moss (broken hand), Chris Cooley (knee surgery) or any of the other playmakers of recent vintage (e.g. Clinton Portis). They’re journeymen Gaffney and Torain, neophytes Helu and Leonard Hankerson, and whatever street free agent strolls by (e.g. David Anderson, who caught a pass against the Dolphins just four days after his first workout with the Redskins).

In such circumstances, Redskins games have begun to take on a preseason feel – plenty of kids playing, the score seeming almost incidental. On the developmental front, Helu made another nice contribution (54 yards from scrimmage in essentially two quarters of work) and Hankerson had the first of what could be many 100-yard receiving days (before hurting his hip in the late going and hobbling to the sideline). On defense, meanwhile, Ryan Kerrigan had two sacks and two forced fumbles. That’s what we’re reduced to, talking about the progress being made by the Redskins of the Future … so we don’t have to think too much about the Redskins of the Present.

How bad is tailspin the Redskins are in? Answer: They haven’t led, not once, in the past five games. What makes it even worse, though, is that their coach has never had to deal before with – how shall I put it? – such a rapid loss of cabin pressure. This is the first time as a head man Shanahan has dropped five in a row. So the coach being counted on to lead the franchise out of the wilderness is now in uncharted territory – up a creek without a GPS, so to speak.

Not to worry, though. He’ll just turn a weakness into a “strength” by remaining mysterious about his quarterback plans. Maybe he’ll stick with Grossman this weekend against Dallas. Or maybe he’ll go back to Beck. Or maybe he’ll promote Jonathan Crompton from the practice squad. Or maybe he’ll lure Jake Plummer out of retirement. (Or maybe he’ll activate himself. He used to play QB, didn’t he?)

I asked Gaffney - the erstwhile Houston Texan, New England Patriot and Denver Bronco - if he’d ever been on a team where the quarterback position was in such flux.

“Not since college,” he replied. “We had Rex and Jesse Palmer [at Florida], and we never knew who was going to start.”

Oh, great. Now we’re comparing Shanny to Steve Spurrier.